Our state budget continues to deteriorate. We are in the 13th month of double-digit decreases in sales tax revenues. We went through a $700-million loan in a matter of days, and our state treasurer has just borrowed another $900 million to get through the next few weeks. He has predicted that by late January our state could be writing checks (IOUs) for money we don’t have.
Our state is broke, and I’m afraid people don’t understand how this is going to affect them. Simply put, revenues coming into the state are not enough to cover the costs. Last Thursday, the Senate passed in special session another budget reduction by transferring and cutting $198 million in state agency funds.
I understand that the state cannot tax its way out of this mess. Together with legislative leadership and my colleagues, I am trying to find solutions to help the state get through this, such as:
Asking local governments if they are willing to house state agencies that are thinking of closing state offices in my district, including the MVD office in St. Johns.
Sponsoring legislation that will reform daycare and help our daycare providers.
Sponsoring legislation that will protect our Arizona businesses against EPA endangerment rulings concerning CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Working with a large stakeholder group concerning our hospitals’ AHCCCS provider rates, which we are going to be forced to decrease dramatically. We are looking at ways to draw down more federal dollars.
When the Legislature reconvenes in January, the proposed sales tax referral will once again be considered. I believe that it is time to send this referral to the people, not because I want to increase taxes, but for these reasons:
• Our money situation in this state is now beyond critical. To balance the budget will require enormous cuts for which there are not enough votes in the House and Senate right now. Therefore, we have to put the sales tax on the ballot in order to get the votes necessary to also make needed cuts.
• It is time to let the people decide. The founders of our country very wisely put checks in our Constitution so that each and every branch of government could be checked and balanced. The people were to be the final check.
• This is the most important point of all: we must also ask the voters to temporarily rescind Proposition 105 for at least three years. Proposition 105 is the “voter protection act” that prevents the Legislature from dealing with the largest problem in our state budget: AHCCCS, the Arizona Medicaid program.
Arizona taxpayers are paying for 1.6 million people (25 percent of the people in Arizona) to receive free health care through AHCCCS.
That is more than all of the children in our K-12 public school system. AHCCCS is taking money from education because during times of budget shortfalls, the Legislature can take some K-12 money, but not AHCCCS due to Proposition 105. AHCCCS is cannibalizing state government.
I do have faith, and I believe that we can solve these problems. I believe in all of you, and would ask that, during this time when we must reduce programs, you step up as neighbors and friends and reach out to others, encourage your local church to increase their help to the poor and needy, and show more compassion and kindness to all.
I am looking forward to this New Year, 2010. I believe that we can make Arizona a better state and one which will encourage individual freedom and self-sufficiency by creating jobs and strengthening businesses. I believe that we can restore Arizona.
Sylvia Allen is a Republican state senator representing District 5.